Criminological Theories Criminology Term Paper

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Criminological Theories

Criminology theories have been the subject for great dispute along the years especially due to the continuous need for the discovery of the nature and causes of criminal behavior. To this end, such matters have become objects of analysis for different disciplines such as sociology, psychology or even biological studies. Nonetheless, the controversies and conflicts in theoretical approaches still persist in trying to find both explanations and solutions to crime orientated attitudes in the society.

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Despite the multitude of views on the matter, there are some points which give consistency to the argumentations and make their comparison possible. On the one hand, the field of analysis points to one major premise which deals with the human nature. The basic question revolves around the state of man. There are those who argue that man is intrinsically evil and therefore, his attitudes cannot be orientated but towards an evil end. These support the idea of free will and man's power of choosing the course of his actions. This point-of-view is presented in the classical approach of criminal behavior, Cezare Beccaria being one of its leading promoters. In opposition, there are those that argue in favor of determinism or the limited power of choice in human actions. From this point-of-view, the result of each action is determined beforehand by the existence of a number of factors which influence the final outcome. Such factors vary from biological, social, anthropological, economic and even political ones. This general view is expressed by those who advocate determinism, and who explain criminal behavior through theories such as positivism, functionalism or labeling.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Criminological Theories Criminology Theories Have Been the Assignment

Thus, the debate focuses on the question whether man's actions are the result of his own conscious choice, without any prior determination, or they are the outcome of the combination of a sum of factors such as socio-economic conditions, family environment, and historical determination. However, this identification of the issue points to a classification dependent on the intensity of determinism. Therefore, at one end of the discussions, there is the theoretical approach that rejects from the start any sort of determinism. In opposing such consideration, there are the so called hard-determinism theories which rely strongly in their argumentations on the existence of combined factors which influence and establish the path of human behavior. However, there is also a middle ground approach which considers that, indeed, humans are in control of their actions and lives, but, at the same time, they are limited in their choices by different social factors such as lack of knowledge, of information on guidance, or different historical conditions or backgrounds. Nonetheless, these three perspectives have been developed in theoretical approaches, each of them having both strong and weak points.

Historically speaking, the classical approach was the first to try to find an adequate answer to the issue. It came in response to the arbitrary application of punishment which characterized the 18th century society. In this respect he advocated some of Thomas Hobbs' ideas on the intrinsic evil nature of man. He considered that people are selfish and in pursuit of their own personal interest. Furthermore, he drew the basic ideas of what would later become the rational choice model, man's continuous consideration for an advantageous ratio between pain and gains. He considered thus that man, in his actions, has a definite aim in avoiding pain while increasing his own happiness. However, such choices are made even at the expense of others' liberties and well being. The question then arises on the possibility of the society to act in such a manner as to decrease the positive outcome of such calculations. Therefore, he advocates deterrence through a proportional application of punishment which would establish a difference between first degree and third degree felonies. This solution would, in his view, give a proper strength to each punishment which in the end would influence the result of pain-gain analysis on which the criminal bases his decisions to act.

The neo-classical theory, as presented by English jurist Blackstone, argued for a revision of the classical theory in large parts because, he thought, not everybody can be responsible for the choices he makes. He points out the case of minor children who cannot be made legally responsible in the same manner as adults. Moreover there are certain factors which compel individuals in their actions. These arguments would later find common ground in the positivist approach that focuses on mental illnesses as element of determinism.

The modern ideas inside the classical approach on criminal behavior are less orientated in opposition to positive differentiations. The basic idea of the existence of free will in however kept as is the support of the death penalty as the ultimate system of punishment.

Although there have been small variations in the classical approach, the core idea relies on the rational choice theory. Siegel explains it as being the situation "when an offender decides to risk violating the law after considering his or her own personal situation (need for money, personal values, learning experiences) and situational factors (how well a target is protected, how affluent the neighborhood is, how efficient the local police happen to be). Before choosing to commit a crime, the reasoning criminal evaluates the risk of apprehension, the seriousness of the expected punishment, the value of the criminal enterprise, and his or her immediate need for criminal gain." (Siegel, 1992) Therefore, the punishment must decrease the attractiveness of the crime in relation to the gains one might obtain by breaking the law. In such cases, there can be measures for general deterrence, which target future behavior; for specific deterrence in cases of concrete situations; for incapacitations, as to prevent recidivist actions; and retributive measures, which consider equality and lack of subjective attitudes in deciding punishments.

Despite the complexity of the approach, there are also weak points I the argumentation. For instance, taking into consideration that the establishment of guilt is a matter decided in a jury-based system of law, and that in cases of severe gravity the punishment would most often result in the death of the one found guilty, there can be a self restrain on establishing the degree of guilt; therefore, the severity of punishment can have in fact a negative impact. Also, there is no certain way of proving the guilt beyond any reasonable doubt; in cases in which the punishment cannot be removed, unfortunate mistakes can result from applying the death penalty sentence.

Such shortcomings are the basis of criticism. Positivism is largely centered on the existence of factors that predetermine the course of action for humans and the society.

Firstly, there is a difference in approach, while the positivists analyze the factors that determine the choice, the classical view starts from the prerequisite condition of man's evil nature and discusses the actual choices he makes in this given condition.

Secondly, the complete split in approach is made at the level of the factors that determine the conduct of man. Charles Darwin considered the man to be different from the animals only in degree, but not in king, and therefore, humans are irremediably related and subject to the same errors of behavior. Elaborating on this, Enrico Ferri identified some factors which influence crime which deal with physical, anthropological and social aspects of man's existence. He therefore identified four types of criminal behavior: insane, born, occasional, and that which results in crimes of passion. Nonetheless, Garafolo opposes this type of theory and basing his idea on the concept of the survival of the fittest, considers that punishment should be enacted as to eliminate certain categories of the criminal population. In this respect, he promotes death for those abnormalities, partial elimination and enforced reparation. With this approach he would have gradually eliminate the evil and criminal elements of the society.

It is obvious to see that the radical approach in the positivist theory was somewhat adapted by different political leaders under the name of the so called "final solution." However, the general idea advocating total determinism has found both supporters and critics.

A different approach on the matter of criminal behavior is presented through a functionalist explanation of the phenomenon. Unlike previous theories, it des not seek to discover the choices defining this behavior, nor its causes. Rather, it is an attempt to discover and analyze the implications of such attitudes for the society and its reactions in controlling crime. The fundamental idea is that crime represents a barometer for the situation of the society. The community needs crime in order to function properly because it helps it build a proper response to it. However, it is important for the criminal rate to be under control. Nonetheless, a low crime rate can mean that, on the one hand, there is a strict grip over the society's functioning mechanism, and on the other, that there is a limitation in the freedoms of the citizens. Emile Durkheim, the main theoretician of the idea considered that crimes is in fact an indicator of the well being of the society and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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